Mahadevi Varma, the pioneer Hindi writer

A poetess, writer, activist and educationist!

Culture

March 26, 2020

/ By / New Delhi



Mahadevi Varma

Mahadevi Varma is one of the four pioneers who introduced neo-romanticism in Hindi poetry

Hindi literature is incomplete without the mention of Mahadevi Varma, one of the four pioneers who introduced neo-romanticism in Hindi poetry. A strong supporter of feminism, Varma became one of the first female Indian poets to raise the subject of women empowerment.

“I remember reading the story of Gillu, the squirrel. The story painted such a powerful imagery in my mind. Years later, when I read the essay Hindu Stri Ka Patnitva, I was shocked to find that even though the two writings dealt with totally different subjects, they shared a common author. Only a writer as legendary as Mahadevi Varma could have written about feminism and animal love with equal excellence and depth,” says Savita Arora, a homemaker based in Delhi.

Many like Arora revere Varma as one of the most proficient Hindi writers known, in particular, for her works in neo-romanticism. Varma is one of the four pioneer Hindi laureates besides Jay Shankar Prasad, Sumitra Nandan Pant and Suryakant Tripathi ‘Nirala’, who were at the helm of the Chhayavaadi poetry movement, a powerful literary movement of romanticism in modern Hindi poetry during the period 1914–1938.

“Her works revolutionised Hindi literature forever. Not only she was a pioneer of Chhayavaadi poetry, but also the first female poetess associated with the genre. For a conservative society who did not view women more than a jewel homemaker at that time, Varma challenged the societal norms with her strong personality,” adds Alka Sharma, a Hindi teacher from Delhi.

Hindi literature can never be complete without the mention of this legendary writer. Some of her most read works include  Smriti ki rekhaen (1943; A Pilgrimage to the Himalayas, and Other Silhouettes from Memory), Path ke saathi (1956; “Companions in Travel”), and Mera parivaar (1971; “My Family”), besides the evergreen pieces of poetry including Nihaar (1930), Rashmi (1932), Niraja (1934), and Sandhya geet (1936), all collected in Yama (1940).

Varma’s works primarily revolve around emotions and moral questionings. Her works on feminism, too, continue to invoke strong emotions among the readers. The diversity reflected in her writings, reflect the beauty of her thoughts. “Whenever I hear about Mahadevi, I am drawn back to school where I first read her story Neelkanth. It was so pure, simple and powerful. Even her poems are so moving, I am a big fan of her works!” exclaims Pinku Jha, a budding poet based in Delhi.

A proficient writer since childhood

Born in Uttar Pradesh’s Farrukhabad district, Varma was brought up in a conducive environment where her father, who was himself an English professor, introduced her to the western teachings and English literature and her mother invoked her interest in Hindi as well as Sanskrit literature. Inspired by the pool of literature that young Varma had discovered, she developed a love for writing at a very young age. Though she wrote her first poem at a seven, she hid her stash of poetry and other writings. It was when her friend Subhadra Kumari Chauhan, found her stash of writings, that her talent came at the forefront.

Her biography Mere Bachpan Ke Din reads “When daughters were considered as burden, she had a good fortune that she was born in a different thinking family. Her grandfather wanted to make her savvy. Her mother was a religious person but had a deep knowledge of Sanskrit and Hindi. Mahadevi’s mother only encouraged her to write poems and to take interest in literature.”

Though she was married off at nine, Varma decided to continue her higher studies and got herself enrolled in Allahabad’s Crosthwaite Girls College. By the time she passed matriculation, Varma had already made a name for herself in the literary world. She wrote some very fine pieces this while.

Face of feminism

When it came to the rights of women, Varma had a very strong viewpoint. Challenging the shackles of patriarchal society, her works spoke volumes about the necessity to empower women and the fight against prevailing gender inequality. She was often compared with the French feminist writer Simone de Beauvoir, known for her bold writings on women empowerment. Readers and critics often draw parallelism between Varma’s essays titled Shrinkhala Ki Kadiyan (Links In My Chain, 1942) and Beauvoir’s seminal text, The Second Sex (1949).

Varma in her essay Ghar Aur Bahar (Home and The World), writes about the marital challenges that women face, “As soon as [women] are married, the dreams of a happy home life become handcuffs and chains and grip their hands and feet in such a way that the flow of the life-force stops within them.”

In her another essay Hindu Stri Ka Patnitva (The Wifehood of Hindu Women), Varma suggested that marriage was akin to slavery in which women are relegated to lives of being wives and mothers.

Varma not only wrote about feminism, but also followed it in principle in her real life as well. Married off at a young age on nine, she decided to continue to her studies and later broke through the institution of marriage, dedicating her life to society and literature. She also served as the principal and vice chancellor of a women’s residential college in Allahabad, Prayag Mahila Vidyapeeth. One of her most powerful works on women sexuality is her poem Cha which was perceived to be very bold at that time.

Varma also became the first woman to receive Sahitya Akademi fellowship. Some of her works have also been translated in English. Even after nearly three decades of her demise, Mahadevi Varma’s works are not only read and taught but also hold significance even in today’s time. Recognised with prestigious awards including Padma Vibhushan and Padma Bhushan, Varma and her works will always remain au courant.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Avatar Pinku jha says:

    Short and informative.
    Really liked the way writer present Mahadevi Varma hi.

  2. Avatar Anusha says:

    The writer presents mahadevi verma in a very unaccustomed way . Highly enriching article .

  3. Avatar Shikha says:

    What a beautifully written article it is, we need more article like these. Great work, bud.👌🏾

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